I arrived in Hong Kong in the summer of 2010 to set up Monocle’s new bureau. After launching in 2007 with a headquarters in London and regional bureaux in Tokyo, New York and Zürich, the time for another Monocle outpost had come.
The first impression I had of Hong Kong was the heat and 98 per cent humidity, it felt as though I was swimming through the streets. Our office around the corner from Star Street in Wanchai was an oven of hot air. I didn’t dare to open the backdoor which leads to our terrace to let a breeze through the space. Someone had told me the feng shui of the place would be upset if people coming in could see an opening at the back.
My colleague Yoshi had already whipped the bureau into shape – painting the walls, putting up Vitsoe shelving, fixing the floor and, as this enterprise is a combination of bureau and store, arranging the Monocle shop.
The first few weeks were a whirlwind of trips to stationary and homeware boutiques, of heated debates with carpenters about the size of wardrobes and fridges, of installing phone lines, hunting for carpet-makers and, of course, getting to know Hong Kong.
At a time when many media organisations are scaling down and calling back their reporters in the field to save money, we were doing the exact opposite. Old-fashioned journalism might have taken a tumble but there is no excuse for documenting the world from behind the comfort of a desk. Field reporting can and should only happen, well, in the field.
Over the past year and a half, our little operation has grown. We now have two correspondents based here and a handful of valued staff. Together we gather ideas – both to be turned into stories and collaborations for the shop – and I traverse the region to go and meet the people behind them.
Setting up a new bureau isn’t without its challenges – sometimes you’ll have to sleep on the sofa overnight because the shutters to the shop won’t close. But steering a fledgling operation through uncharted waters is a thrilling experience, worth losing some sleep over.